By Sandy Burgham
We spend our life until we’re twenty deciding what parts of ourself to put into the bag, and we spend the rest of our lives trying to get them out again.” — Robert Bly.
Our daughter is 20 and for the large part, I have been trying to shove “key messages” into her bag to keep her safe for her journey ahead. Of course, it appears this all goes in one ear and out the other, but there is one little inkling of hope. My father trotted out the exact same messages 30 years ago (bar the ones about social media and screen time), and was similarly ghost-faced by me at the time. I have no need for these speeches anymore, as I think the kids have these imprinted on their subconscious. So, these are for parents of young teens, those of you starting to formulate your own spiels. Let me save you the bother of this thankless part of parenting.
You’re not going out looking like that are you? (Daughter version) For god’s sake, you’ll freeze. Take a sweatshirt, you’ll get bronchitis. It’s the middle of winter and why do you need to show so much flesh? What is wrong with you? Put some tights on, and a jumper, in fact just change the whole outfit and wear a ski suit. You’re not going out looking like that are you? (Son version) For god’s sake, you have to iron that . . . and it’s stained! You can’t walk in looking like that. Get a clean t-shirt at least. I put clean washing on your bed yesterday. And, how long have you been wearing those shorts without washing them? You slept in those didn’t you?
OMG, I can smell your feet from here, just saying. When I said “tidy your room” . . . I didn’t mean put everything in a pile in your cupboard. I meant tidy the whole room, vacuum the floor including under the bed and in the corners, and dust. Plus, use this as an opportunity to put aside anything that doesn’t fit anymore so we can give it away. And empty the rubbish bin. When I said “do the dishes” . . . I meant wipe the benches and clean the sinks, replace the tea towels, and put any food away. Also if you are loading the dishwasher, unload what is clean in there first; don’t just shove in dirty dishes on top of it.
No . . . NO, no way, forget it, it’s not happening. I can’t even believe you asked me. No. Absolutely not. Do what you like when you leave home [BTW, not quite true], but while you are under my roof, it’s not happening. Get in the car . . . You are coming. I’m not interested in your whining. Hurry. We don’t have time to wait for you to snap out of your surly mood. You’re coming, it’s not going to kill you, get in the car.
Take down that social media post . . . I’ve just seen what you posted on [insert social media channel here]. What are you thinking? Take it down immediately. I don’t care if you think, “I don’t get it”. What message do you think that sends the world? Yes, well you might not care now, but in five years time when you’re looking for a job your employer is going to find this stuff and you won’t get the job. I don’t care if you don’t want a job, people are going to think you are a total loser. I don’t care if you don’t care if people think you are a total loser (And so on).
Get off the screen . . . I mean it. Two minutes or I’m coming in. If you don’t get off the screen now I’m turning off the modem . . . OK, I’m turning off the modem, selling the PlayStation AND getting rid of your iPad. OK that’s it, I’m confiscating everything that plugs in. (And so forth).
For those cynics who consider repetitive nagging futile, consider this. In my early “tiger mother” time of being a Suzuki violin parent, I followed the memo and force-fed my daughter daily doses of violin music to reinforce her learning. After six years of this nonsense, she literally, yes, threw down the violin, never to pick it up again. But, something unexpected occurred. No, she didn’t take it up in later years — in my dreams — but her younger brother, happily playing blocks in the corner and largely ignored during this process (we never did formal music lessons with him at a young age), now has an uncanny familiarity with music. At 16, he’s a willing learner who plays a variety of instruments, and is in four different bands. Is the real lesson here that the less parenting I do, the better it is for all concerned? Or, as Mrs Marsh observed back in the day, perhaps “it really does get in”. Good luck with your own endeavours!
— Sandy Burgham
This post first appeared in The Hobson February, 2017